17 Jun 2016

Papuans and Indonesians at the same table in MSG

3:24 pm on 17 June 2016

The chairman of this week's Melanesian Spearhead Group Foreign Ministers meeting in Fiji has lauded the occasion of having West Papuan and Indonesian delegates at the same table.

However, Milner Tozaka, who is the Solomon Islands Foreign Minister, has admitted that this was not the way Indonesia initially wanted it to be.

Mr Tozaka claimed it was the first time in the MSG history that Indonesia and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua were seated with the rest of the group's full membership at the meeting in Lautoka.

The Liberation Movement, which has observer status in the MSG, and Indonesia, with associate member status, are both vying for full membership in the group.

An upcoming MSG leaders summit in July in Honiara is expected to deliberate on this.

However Jakarta has lobbied intensely in the region to counter efforts to include the Liberation Movement in the MSG, saying its own involvement in the group already covers representation of West Papuans.

But grassroots support in Melanesian states for West Papuan self-determination aspirations is strong and international diplomatic activity over the matter is growing.

The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia's FLNKS Kanaks movement have signalled support for West Papuan full membership, while the other two full members, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, appear likely to sie with Indonesia.

In Lautoka, Mr Tozaka said Indonesia expressed objections to accommodate the Papuans at the senior officials meetings prior to the Foreign Ministers meeting.

But he said he stood his grounds and stressed the need for both parties to participate.

Delegates at the Melanesian Spearhead Group Foreign Ministers Meeting in Fiji, 16 June 2016. The new MSG director-general Amena Yauvoli is in centre position.

Delegates at the Melanesian Spearhead Group Foreign Ministers Meeting in Fiji, 16 June 2016. The new MSG director-general Amena Yauvoli is in centre position. Photo: Melanesian Spearhead Group secretariat

Meanwhile, Solomon Islands' special West Papua envoy, Rex Horoi, described it as the start of a long awaited process the MSG has been pushing for.

He said the MSG wanted to provide a platform for both Indonesia and the ULMWP to conduct open and transparent dialogue on ongoing human rights violations and issues facing the indigenous Melanesians of Indonesia's Papua region.

The MSG Foreign Ministers also discussed the recently concluded negotiations for the new MSG Trade Agreement - the Melanesian Free Trade Agreement (MFTA) which was endorsed at the recent Trade Ministers Meeting convened in May in Port Vila.

Mr Tozaka admitted that there is a dire need to convene the meetings to ensure that the life-blood of the MSG is maintained and, if need be. revamped.

"Today we have important issues to consider, most notably the critical financial situation of our Secretariat," he said.

"The Secretariat needs adequate financial support to deliver a number of important mandates and decisions of our leaders."

He said despite the challenges faced by members on the resourcing issues and differing views on how to best address these challenges, it was good to see the exploring of various cost-cutting measures.

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